WHY THEY BUY YOUR VIOLETS
Now We Can Know Why We Must Do What We Must Do
INSIDE/OUTSIDE. How Businesses Buy Legal Services. By
Larry Smith, with a forward by Richard S. Levick. ALM Publishing (a division of American
Law Media, Inc.)
First, lets recognize that this is an
extraordinary, comprehensive, and invaluable work. Nothing as credible, nothing like it,
is on the horizon. This is, too, a rare book on contemporary law firm marketing whose
author fully understands and deals with the extraordinary complexity of the legal
profession and how it relates to its markets. Inside/Outside does for marketing
what The Edge Group and
To put it in perspective lets look at the history of professional firm marketing literature.
Prior to Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, which opened law firms and the professions to frank marketing in 1977, there had been a few books on professional firm marketing, written by accountants or lawyers. They were, by todays standards, at least quaint. In 1978, I wrote what was probably the first article on the difference between marketing a product and marketing a professional service. In 1984, in a period when marketing literature for professionals was still sparse, I wrote Competing For Clients, which was probably the first comprehensive book on the subject written in the post-Bates environment. Nor was there a vast abundance of professional firm marketing literature when I wrote Competing for Clients in the 90s, in 1990. Until people in the field understood that marketing professional services was substantially and meaningfully different from marketing products, most marketing literature was simply an attempt to force professional services marketing into the structure of product marketing.
In the 1990s,
professional firm marketing literature proliferated. This was a period during which the
effects of marketing on law and accounting firms began to change the nature of the
practices themselves. Some great names and thoughtful professionals emerged The
Edge Groups Riskin, McKenna and Anderson; Silvia Coulter; Sally Schmidt;
And what of the other -- and proliferating body of literature on the subject? Mostly technique and mechanics, some good, some bad, often confusing mechanics with strategy. How to write a press release. How to run a seminar. How to write a newsletter. The good stuff in this genre was valuable to teach the mechanics, but little of it was very helpful in understanding the changing relationships that were growing between professional firms and their clients in a rapidly changing world.
Now comes Larry Smith, with the most intensely researched, reality based, thoughtfully interpreted book on the subject now in print. Mr. Smith understands, knows, and explains it all gracefully.
As has often been noted in these pages, no product or service knows less about how its consumers buy than do lawyers and accountants. Historically, this stems from the fact that professional services are mostly bought at those times when urgent needs arise. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, What I really need today is a good audit. Or This is a great day to buy a contract, or to sue somebody. Despite efforts of some of the leading marketers to integrate marketing research into the practice, most professionals resisted. Most professional market research firms didnt really understand the professions and the buyers of professional services. Most research efforts of the time treated buyers of legal and accounting services like buyers of products.
When the Bates decision introduced the concept of competition, it found the professions in a state of confusion about how to relate to its clients and potential clients. Nuances that have always existed in professional practices had to be identified, and made part of a competitive effort. And how was this to be done in an arena in which there is no tradition of marketing? Subsequently, a kind of research emerged in the form of simplistic (for the most part) surveys. Client surveys usually took the form of tell me if you love me or not, and why. Very little useful information was derived, and that information has rarely been interpreted accurately, and appropriately integrated into marketing practice. There were exceptions, such as the knowledgeable Ken Wrights positioning research for Arthur Young, which probably introduced positioning to the professions, and produced some fine advertising.
In this extraordinary book, Mr. Smith did three things. He surveyed and read the surveys. He went into the field to conduct exhaustive and penetrating interviews, which told him more than even the best surveys could tell him. He interpreted the data in ways that are thoughtful, insightful, and absolutely relevant. His findings can be readily translated into intelligent and effective marketing strategies.
What Larry Smith found often runs counter to the conventional wisdom about professional services marketing that so many professional firms have lived by for so many years. The wealth of information, and his intelligent interpretation of it, is enormous. It is impossible to summarize comprehensively, other than to cite some key observations and conclusions.
Interestingly and appropriately, his first chapter recognizes the growing globalization of business, and addresses the process of domestic law firms meeting the international needs of clients abroad. Here we see a growing sophistication in the art of buying legal services. The consensus of corporate general counsel seems to be that the size and reach of the international law firm is not of itself a guarantee of efficient foreign service. The emphasis, rather, is on the local lawyer who is qualified and experienced in local national law and practices. This may indeed turn out to be a lawyer from a smaller local firm. Other chapters address such questions as whether the traditional megafirm continues to be the choice of todays corporations; the question of the viability of law firm networks; value selling and how law firm marketing helps legal services buyers; how lawyers who solve non-legal problems may revolutionize the legal professions; law firm accountability; convergence how in-house counsel sharpen their preferred provider lists; how new economy companies hire outside counsel; gender-based marketing, and consultants.
He finds some very practical answers to key questions, such as how corporate counsel finds the right lawyer or law firm for a specific project or problem. Through the eyes of a very large number of corporate counsel, cogently interpreted by Mr. Smith, he punctures many of the myths that now pervade law and accounting firm marketing (such as branding for any but the largest law firms, some peculiar concept of quality as a marketing tool, and many more) and brings harsh reality to the notion of how lawyers really relate to other lawyers, to their clients, to each other.
He understands why marketing for professionals is different from marketing a product, and explains it clearly. Legal services are bought, he says, not sold. The emphasis is not on the skills a firm has to sell, but on the needs of the buyer. To a very large degree, corporate counsel buys lawyers, not law firms. All clearly delineated and demonstrated.
The standard marketing tools are useful, but only as adjuncts to the complex structure of serving client needs. Its no surprise to readers of The Marcus Letter, that nobody buys a law firm from a brochure, which has never been more than a reference tool. Buyers, Smith notes, look for value and expertise, not mere reputation. Corporations, then, tend to find individuals, not firms.
Does marketing as we do it now help? Yes, but in an ancillary way, and certainly not as it does in marketing a product. Marketing professional services builds reputation, but not for mere name recognition. It exposes expertise. It creates visibility for skills and integrity. But ultimately, the buying decision is made pragmatically. The consumer may buy the better known brand of toothpaste or corn flakes. The buyer of legal services retains the lawyer with the skills to resolve specific problems.
The breadth of relevant subjects he covers is extensive, such as how to retain and use outside marketing consultants, and why marketing to women lawyers is an important part of law firm marketing. Case histories abound. There is no mere academic theory here just pure and proven reality.
As we have done extensively in these and other pages, he questions the partnership structure and the billable hour, and augments the case for value selling and billing. Buying and selling of legal services ought to be predicated on value. If you sell, make the selling itself worth the buyers time. This kind of insight is rarely found in most books on marketing professional services.
This review can only touch the surface of the valuable information and ideas in the book. Inside/Outside is not a how-to book you wont learn how to write a press release or run a seminar or write a brochure. But you will understand the basis for doing these things and doing them well.
And by the way. Inside/Outside may have been written about selling legal services, but there is still a large vein of gold for accountants and consultants.
The Marcus Letter has always been dedicated, as its readers know, not just to improving marketing skills, but to improving the practice of professional services marketing itself. Thats why this book is so welcome in these pages. It does exactly that. It is indeed a platform for better understanding of the marketing process for professionals than we have had for many years.